Saturday, April 19, 2014

An open letter to Rowan University President, Dr. Ali A. Houshmand

Dear Dr. Houshmand,

I understand that you have invited Gov. Chris Christie to be the keynote speaker at next month’s commencement ceremonies and that you are bestowing an honorary degree on him. Why?

As you well know, Rowan University started out as a teachers college, and in fact in 1937, the school’s name was changed to New Jersey State Teachers College at Glassboro. Your school’s own website describes it thus:

"The college gained a national reputation as a leader in the field of reading education and physical therapy when it opened a clinic for children with reading disabilities in 1935... The college was one of the first in the country to recognize these needs and was in the forefront of the special education movement." (emphasis mine)

Correct me if I am wrong, but no other New Jersey governor has treated public education, students and teachers with such vile contempt as Gov. Christie. No other New Jersey governor that I know of has denigrated, demonized and tried to destroy one of the best public education systems in the country the way Gov. Christie has. He has cut billions from education funding, which has resulted in 10,000 educators losing their jobs. He has contributed to and expanded the racial and socioeconomic segregation of our urban school districts with policies like One Newark. He has accused teachers of being ‘greedy, selfish and disgraceful’ and using our students as ‘drug mules’. If you need more proof, here it is, and as blogger, TeacherBiz said in her post on this issue, if that’s not enough, just Google it.

It would be bad enough if this were an isolated political bent, but it’s not. Gov. Christie’s attacks on public education are part of a well-organized, highly funded nationwide campaign to privatize public education, destroy teachers unions and turn the teaching profession into a low-paid, high-turnover test proctor service. If you are not aware of this, then again, I must ask, ‘Why?’ As an educator and president of one of the state’s premier teachers colleges, how can you not know what is happening in K-12 education, how can you not be up in arms about it, and how can you bestow honors on someone hell-bent on destroying one of the bedrocks of a democracy, and something that New Jersey does better than almost every other state in the country?  

To bestow an honorary degree on Gov. Christie would be a slap in the face to all the hard working education majors graduating that day, not to mention all the alumni of the school of education, every education professional working in New Jersey, and every single child who attends a New Jersey public school. It also sends a powerful message that you support his destructive public education policies. Do you really want that as part of your legacy?

Christina and Joseph Nappi have started a Change.org petition calling on you to reconsider your decision. Mr. Nappi also wrote a letter to the South Jersey Times imploring you to reconsider. The petition and letter are picking up steam on social media. I urge you to please reconsider this decision. I urge you to take a stand for public education and against the corporatization of one of the last vestiges of a strong democracy. Unless and until educators stand up against the privatization juggernaut, our children don’t stand a chance. You can lead the way.

Thank you.